Accidentally or Accidently

The other day I was walking past a sign which contained the word tragically. I had to stop and look at it, really look at it, because I was convinced that it was misspelled.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why though. It certain looked too long (and that might have been due to the kerning), but every letter seemed to be in the right place.

After walking away and thinking about it (I don’t usually stand around looking at signs for too long), I realised it was because there’s a gap between how we pronounce it and how we spell it. Like comfortabl(y), it sounds shorter than it looks. We pronounce it like tragicly. And because it’s a word I fortunately don’t see written down often, it looked odd.

A lot of people also have this problem with accidentally. Again, we don’t really pronounce that A near the end, so a lot of people spell it accidently, so much so that it’s now often considered an acceptable variant.

There are a few other words like these which look misspelled, or at least unusual. For example:

  • perquisite: or perk, for short. We’re more used to words beginning with pre-, and it looking so similar to prerequisite doesn’t help
  • temperamental: again, we don’t really pronounce the middle A, so it looks strange
  • pastime: you’d expect there to be either two S’s (pass time, which is where the word comes from), or past-time, which I think looks natural, but when you think about it, doesn’t really make any sense, does it?
  • Occasion: yup, just one S. Understandable, as lots of words have two S’s before -ion, and when we have a single consonant near a doubled consonant, it’s often hard to remember which one is doubled. See also: necessary and Jennifer. And of course, misspelled! The two S‘s seem weird, probably because they make us see the word miss, but it makes sense when you think about it, as we’re adding the prefix mis- to the word spell.

It’s a weird feeling, when a word just looks wrong, but it’s nice to still be surprised by your native tongue now and then!

3 thoughts on “Accidentally or Accidently

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